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To a food industry that's tried wellness, convenience, color and just about every other attribute to jump start growth, the Quality Institute International (QII) is looking to add yet another attribute , taste.
The American Tasting Institute (ATI), the food and beverage testing service of San Francisco-based QII, has been testing thousands of products for 15 years, as well as licensing rights for select products, those it judges best in their respective categories -- to use ATI's Gold Medal in their marketing. But despite all those gold medals, many of which have popped up on packaging for major brands, QII has a problem: Most consumers still don't notice the medal or even know what it means.
Now under the management of John Parker, who joined the Institute as president two years ago, QII is out to change that and possibly help raise the profile of flavor as a marketing tool. So it has hired TrueBrand, a San Francisco branding consultancy, and public relations firm Golin Harris, also of San Francisco, as it prepares a two-year campaign to make consumers -- and the food industry, take notice of that little gold medal.
Later this month, ATI plans to alert current Gold Medal Honorees of a "new look, feel and messaging" for the QII program in the hopes that food marketers will start incorporating the updates into their 2004 marketing initiatives, according to Julie Hagler, chief marketing officer of the Institute. In September, QII will roll out the first part of its marketing plan, with a public-relations blitz from Golin Harris targeted at television, print and radio media, as well as grassroots and event marketing, with plans for print and possibly radio advertising to follow in 2004. QII also will redesign its Web site, qii.org, in September, making it primarily a tool for educating consumers about the Gold Medal.
"We're going to make public relations and the marketing tools of our licensees the first thrust of consumer awareness," Hagler says. "We think this is the kind of message that needs depth, not just a five-second visual impression. So the PR and the clients who are winners are going to be the ones to really carry the message forward."
Hagler acknowledges that consumer awareness currently is low. "But [our] research has definitely proved there is a need and desire among consumers to know more about the concept of having independent chefs judge the best of the best and have that be something they actively seek."
QII already seems to be gaining some momentum with some clients.
Edy's Whole Fruit Bars have received Gold Medal honors for three years, but only began using the designation in marketing this year, says Kara Haskell, marketing manager of super-premium brands for Dreyer's in Oakland, Calif. Edy's highlighted the Gold Medal in a freestanding insert in a national newspaper that dropped on July 27, and is also using it in point-of-sale material, including a new program called SuperFridge that puts dedicated Whole Fruit freezer displays in some stores.
"We started using the Gold Medal after doing some investigative work on what other brands were using it," Haskell said. "Identifying those brands, which included Snack Wells and Coffee Mate, helped us decide to use it. We think it will become the J.D. Power or AAA rating of the food industry, so we wanted to be on the cutting edge."
Haskell believes the Gold Medal could be a deciding factor for consumers who haven't tried the product before and don't have strong loyalty to a competing brand. She also believes that as QII takes steps to educate consumers about the Gold Medal, more and more consumers will start looking for it. "You can slap anything on your package, like ,'best tasting' or whatever," she said, "but if the seal starts to gain some kind of meaning, that's where I think the Quality Institute can really start to gain some client base."
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